Friday, January 6, 2017


I first thought that if this weren't so pathetic, it would be funny. But on reflection, this sorry saga would never be funny...

On any number of these pages we have regularly raged with regard to the hot mess that JFNA and the federations have permitted the Federation-National Agencies Alliance (the "Alliance") to become. I have deemed this institutional disgrace the "mini-me" of JFNA -- it is JFNA in microcosm. Let's step back and then take a look at the present...

The Alliance,* the successor organization to the CJF-driven National Funding Council and the Large City Budgeting Conference arose out of a not fully thought through Report of the JFNA's Greilsheimer Commission (so named for Louise Greilsheimer, a past Chair of New York UJA-Federation who chaired the Commission) in the immediate aftermath of the merger. The Alliance was designed to be self-funding (thereby freeing JFNA of any financial assistance from its Budget) and self-governed by the federations which became its members with staffing provided by JFNA. While during the pre-JFNA years what was to become the Alliance was staffed full-time by a wonderful professional who walked the tightrope between the National Agencies' needs and the federations' desire to minimally fund, after the initial years of the Alliance, that pro, for no reason whatsoever, was succeeded by a professional in JFNA-Washington who has since provided only part-time service to Alliance work. 

In addition, almost from the onset of the Alliance, New York UJA, which was providing a huge share, some would think disproportionate, of the National Agencies Funding Pool -- 38% at last count -- began threatening to withdraw its funding (approximately $1.6 million so disclosed in a note to the Alliance members from its Chair and staff, June 16, 2016) when its demands to, among other matters, defund certain national agencies and to see other federations pick up the slack were not met. (Curiously, the loudest voice for defunding, delivering New York's position, was Louise Greilsheimer herself after she morphed from an outstanding New York lay leader to a New York-UJA senior professional. Louise has since retired from her position at New York UJA.)

In the last report I have, the Alliance allocated $4 million to 9 national agencies...a sad sum in the absolute. Were New York to eliminate its allocation the Fund would drop to about $2,500,000. That amount would be disgraceful. One national agency that had received 84% of its budget from the Alliance at its outset; has seen that percentage fall to 14%; were New York to eliminate its allocation, that percentage would reduce to less than 5% -- almost nothing. And neither JFNA leaders, most of whom have no idea what The Alliance is, nor those of the Alliance have any sense of shame or failure. This situation has gotten so bad that an annual face-to-face meeting with the member Alliance Agencies that had taken place from the get-go at every GA, was canceled this year without explanation; one supposes the decision was made to avoid potential confrontation and certain embarrassment.

And, though it was presumed at its creation that the Alliance leadership would immediately and constantly seek out both new members and increased funding from its members, they have spent most of their time vetting the national agencies with evermore convoluted annual reporting forms while some members significantly reduced their annual allocations to the Alliance and others just dropped out of this voluntary organization. 

And three other important matters:

  1. While membership and funding significantly diminished to the National Agency members, the Alliance, instead of examining the "whys" and doing something about them, invited two additional agencies to join -- the American Jewish World Service and BBYO, neither of which is a national agency of and for our system; and
  2. In violation of its own stated purposes, at JFNA's demand, with neither vetting nor explanation, The Alliance turned over $400,000 from the diminished National Agencies Funding Pool to JFNA itself to fund an "Education Unit" thereby alleviating what would have been JFNA's responsibility to raise the funds necessary to meet its own budget needs for that undefined purpose and to raise those funds itself. I call that theft -- taking funds for a Pool created for funding National Agencies for its own non-Agency purposes. What would you call it? JFNA calls it "business as usual."
  3. And, worse, much worse. That $400,000 "grant" extorted from The Alliance last year? The Alliance, attempting to bind its future membership. agreed to up that "grant" to $900,000 next fiscal year and into future years. Thus, without regard for its responsibilities to the National Agencies, should New York withdraw its funding and the Alliance not gain increased funding from somewhere, 40%...that's forty percent...of the reduced Funding Pool will have been pre-allocated to JFNA leaving $1.6 million for the National Agencies. 
Hot mess, anyone? JFNA in microcosm anyone? Oh, and it gets even worse...

I know of not a single national agency that has not hired either a full-time to part-time fundraiser in response to the drastic cuts to them from the Alliance and those Draconian cuts threatened by New York's withdrawal. Because of JFNA's neglect, pretending that the national agencies are not its concern but only that of the Alliance, the national agencies are being forced to raise dollars from within the federations themselves -- the absolute opposite of what was intended when the Alliance and its predecessor vetting and funding entities were created. 

Over its existence, the Alliance has seen two (and maybe my count is off) national agencies of undisputed value, disappear -- JESNA and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The former now appears to be rising from the ashes as a JFNA Education and Community Engagement Unit with more assured funding than JESNA ever had...from the Alliance itself to the JFNA Budget. While there is irony here; isn't this really just insane? Isn't this simply theft? (It's what we call  "Silverman FRD.")

Sometime during the past few weeks, apparently giving up on JFNA doing something about this mess, the Large City Executives discussed the Alliance at length. Like almost everything else in Jewish organizational life, the LCE meetings are "confidential" but here's what I've pieced together. JFNA's COO, Mark Gurvis, will take a more active role in the Alliance administration and activities; New York UJA will "probably" continue at least a portion if not all of its disproportionate funding of the Alliance for one additional year -- FY 2017-2018; and the Large Cities will buttress their membership on the Alliance where leadership succession had seen the passage of the gavel from one excellent smaller community leader to another over the past few transitions. Whether the LCE directed Silverman/JFNA to find the annual support for JFNA's embryonic Education and Community Engagement Unit from their own resources is unknown (assuming the LCE even were aware of this misappropriation, this "grant").

If true, the LCE applied a short-term fix -- retaining all or part of New York's funding for one additional year -- to a longer-term problem -- the disinterest of most federations in funding those of the system's national agencies which continue to perform at the highest levels on behalf of the federations. 

As is par for the course at and with JFNA, things reach a crisis point, the LCE step in and, then, one can only hope for the best. Meanwhile JFNA goes on its way, not a concern at all. As if "it's not our problem" as with everything. In fact, I don not believe that the officers of JFNA have been briefed on this dereliction of responsibility.


* The Agencies "supported" by the Alliance are:  American Jewish World Service ∙ The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies ∙ BBYO ∙ The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) ∙ Hillel International ∙ The Jewish Community Centers Association of North America ∙ The Jewish Council for Public Affairs ∙ JTA, the Global News Service of the Jewish People (JTA/70 Faces Media) ∙ NCSEJ: National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry.


Anonymous said...

You have written about the secrecy at JFNA. The secret contracts, the secret consultant deals. This secrecy coupled with the failure of JFNA's lay leaders to do anything about it, in fact they encourage it has clearly emboldened Silverman to do something like you've described here. He does something like this knowing no one is ever going to hold him accountable. It's a disgrace.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of THEFT, what about the millions of dollars that JFNA (Israel and Overseas) took from the Israel emergency campaign during the last Gaza war for its own use - to feed its ever-increasing appetite for expanding already inflated staff and additional self-perceived power for the JFNA brand?

Anonymous said...

Where is the outcry from the National agencies about this theft? Are their leaders as intimidated by JFNA or the federations that they are frightened into silence? Have 5they any backbone whatsoever. It would appear that the ridiculously small amount of money they now receive through this Alliance would encourage them to publicly protest but, instead, they shrink in silence.

Anonymous said...

Richard, you've provided the evidence that a JFNA with no accountability, where professionals can just demand a $400,000 transfer of funds belonging to others and lay leaders genuflect and comply, is well on its way to becoming the next FEGs, the next 92nd Street Y, the next catastrophe. Why would donors want to contribute to their federations, why should they entrust them as the stewards on $100s of millions when federation leaders allow their umbrella organization to act as JFNA as with no sense of responsibility or accountability.

It's the federations which ultimately will suffer the consequences of failing to force real change at JFNA HQ.